NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The family dynamic at Axsom Martial Arts in Newport News is undeniable. “A dojo is supposed to be like a family, and families don’t always get along I mean these guys compete against each other,” said studio owner John “Moose” Axsom.
Even though these athletes spend most of their days yelling, punching, and kicking each other, those jabs quickly turn into laughs around the dinner table.
“Every day that I’m here, they’re here. So, I see them 5 hours a day, we’re always here,” said Ryan Sigsbee of his teammates’ intense training. “Something that I really appreciate about fighting is that we hit each other in the head. It doesn’t feel great, and we get each other tired but right afterward we dab each other up and hug and then we go out to dinner. It’s awesome.”
From friends on the mat, to foes off of it, now those dinner conversations will involve reminiscing on the team’s most recent adventure.
“Oh my gosh, it was definitely one of the highlights of my career so far, this is ranked number one for sure,” said Kiana Lawson.
"I never would have expected this. I did not know what tournaments were, I didn't know anything about karate, other than you learn how to punch and kick," said Brett Fallen after starting karate just five years ago. "The fact that I was able to just go to Scotland was amazing."
A group of 8 students from Axsom’s dojo in Newport News just returned from the WUFK World Karate Championship in Dundee, Scotland, representing Team USA. The athletes included Ryan Sigsbee, Brett Fallen, Kiana Lawson, Miranda Martinez Chellis, Nick Henderlite, Mikey Eggleston, Jr., Amiyr Gordon and Conner Strickland. It was the largest group to ever go from Axsom’s studio, bringing back an impressive 12 medals among them.
"Being up on the podium, taking pictures with a gold medal knowing that I did my country proud, my dojo proud, and my family proud, it was great," said Henderlite.
“These athletes have done anywhere from 120- 200 tournaments in their lifetime. To express the beating heart of excitement and pride that I have in these guys, it’s just amazing,” said Moose. “For instance, Kiana has only been training with us for 8 months and she made the team, that’s amazing.”
And of course, being there with teammates who are essentially family made the trip once in a lifetime. As Miranda Martinez put it: "Competing was a lot of fun, but the people definitely made the trip."
As for how Team USA faired as a whole, 123 athletes represented Team USA from all over the country. The team collectively brought back the second-largest number of gold medals.
Moose opened his studio in 2011, still relatively young compared to others, making his team’s accomplishments even more impressive.
“All of my athletes, every one of them is special to me I don’t care if they’ve been here for four days of 14 years,” said Moose. “Our dojo is still relatively young. There are dojo’s that have been around for 30-40 years and to have as many as we did on the team is a big feather. They all did really well and we came back with four world championships.”